PUEBLO — Rent-to-own government housing programs may provide a pathway to ownership for low-income tenants.
Back in 2001, the Housing Authority of the City of Pueblo launched a program to help 50 families become homeowners through a 15-year initiative.
20 years later, some participants in the program say they don't have the deed to their home and asked News 5 Investigates to help get answers.
"When I got involved with this program, I was a single dad making $9 an hour," Greg Lucero said.
Lucero says he was accepted into the Housing Authority's rent-to-own program in 2001 when he was a young father with two little girls.
At the time, Lucero said he was living in a small apartment and always dreamed of owning a home.
"50 families were going to be able to get into a brand-new home," he said. "At the end of the 15 years (the program's duration), we'd pay $3,000-$5,000 and the house is ours."
The 15-year program launched by the Housing Authority and other community partners should have ended in 2016, according to Lucero's agreement.
Tenants who successfully made payments on-time were then supposed to have the deed transferred over in their name, but that hasn't happened for a handful of renters who say they've met the terms of their agreement.
"They (Pueblo Housing Authority) still had us going down there after that, signing new leases," Lucero said. "We are asking, 'when are we getting our house?' The program ended and all we kept hearing was that 'it was coming'."
Other neighbors News 5 spoke with off-camera tell us the same thing.
We took their concerns straight to Steven Trujillo, the new executive director for the Housing Authority.
"This program was designed that over a period of time, the homeowners would then be transferred this property and then be able to put it in their name," he explained.
News 5 Investigates asked, "So there are renters in this neighborhood (Oakshire Hills) who should be homeowners today?"
"That's the goal of the program," Trujillo said. "It's to make successful homeowners at the end of it all and that's what we're working on."
Trujillo admitted Lucero is one of several tenants waiting on the deed as part of the rent-to-own housing program.
News 5 Investigates asked, "As a homebuyer, I can close on a home in 2-4 weeks. When it came to this project, some of these people claim they should have had the deed to their home years ago. What went wrong?"
"There's been a few delays because of some transitions with key individuals in positions on our end," Trujillo said. "You've also had some transition with our agency partners so we're bringing everyone back up to speed about what the program was designed to do and now we know where we stand, we going to execute and complete what is before us for the homeowner."
Trujillo said part of the delays are with getting all of the paperwork in order with the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA)---one of the key players in the implementation of this particular project.
Meanwhile, Lucero and other neighbors tell News 5 that they've continued paying rent all these years later.
News 5 Investigates asked, "These folks have continued to pay rent long after they should have had the deeds to their homes. Are they entitled to any kind of refund?"
"That is a piece we are taking under consideration," Trujillo said. "One of the things that's important to point out is that in the time they've continued to pay rent, we've also maintained that same level of support and service to that resident as well. So anytime there was an issue within the home, they would call in a work order and we would take care of that. During that time frame, they have not been responsible for any property taxes of which when the home transfer to them, that's a piece that will transfer to them. So there's all the other pieces the agency has upheld over that period of time----we did not cease any of those things."
News 5 followed up by asking if the Housing Authority could provide an exact date for when tenants can have the deed to their homes.
"I cannot guarantee you a date only because I don't control the calendars of others we have to work with," Trujillo said. "We understand the importance of what we're working on and we're working to close it as soon as we can."
Lucero says he's one of about a half dozen tenants still waiting on the deed to their home.
News 5 Investigates will be checking in weekly with the Pueblo Housing Authority and CHFA on their progress in closing out this project.
On Thursday afternoon, a CHFA spokesperson released the following statement:
For background, CHFA administers the Housing Tax Credit program in Colorado. The program was established by the Federal Tax Reform Act of 1986. Housing Tax Credits are the most widely used financing tool for creating and preserving affordable rental housing nationwide. In exchange for housing tax credit support awarded by CHFA, affordable rental housing properties are required to comply with rent and income restrictions established by the program so that it can offer apartments at below market-rate rents to meet a community’s need for affordable housing. CHFA’s ongoing role with properties that are part of the program is to serve as the monitoring agency to ensure the property complies with rent and income restriction requirements, health and safety requirements, and other regulations and policies established by the program and CHFA as the program administrator. Oakshire Hills was supported with Housing Tax Credits awarded by CHFA. Through an agreement with CHFA, the Pueblo Housing Authority may purchase units from Oakshire Hills’ ownership entity to sell to the original remaining eligible tenants after the development has operated under the tax credit program for 15 years. This opportunity is unique compared to almost all other properties supported with Housing Tax Credits. Because housing supported with tax credits must comply with affordability restrictions, CHFA’s role in this process is to release the occupancy restrictions from the units to allow Pueblo Housing Authority to sell units to eligible tenants. Those units will then become deed restricted to ensure continued affordability and be monitored for compliance by Pueblo Housing Authority. CHFA and Pueblo Housing Authority are currently working together to complete this process. We do not have an exact time estimate as requirements to be met are pending. Currently, there are five units undergoing the process for conversion. Be assured that CHFA is working diligently to fulfill its role in the process.